Michael Bruce

Senior legal counsel Procter & Gamble, Costa Rica

GC: How did you become involved with representing Procter & Gamble’s diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Earlier this year, I was invited to an external training session by MARC (Men Advocating for Real Change). It was very eye-opening for me because, as a man you might say ‘Sure, I’m all in favour of D&I and equality’, but what are you really doing? Is it just the idea you like, or are you actually doing something real to achieve equity and equality?

At this training, a lot of very interesting things were said – issues that men don’t even have to think about in their day-to-day lives, but that are commonplace for women. And that’s mostly what I took out of it and what helped me to try to better understand my peers, the women close to me, specifically on the employment side of the issue. The training happened during the week of International Women’s Day, and at the end of that week P&G was participating on a full-day panel with 13 or 14 other multinational companies here in Costa Rica. The event was organised by the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency, so it was a big event with close to 600 people attending. One of the IT managers that was participating in the MARC training and was one of the organisers of the Women’s Day event (as you can imagine, IT is way, way underrepresented on gender), reached out to me and said, ‘We have a slot, about ten minutes. Do you think you can prepare something that you can present?’ And I said, ‘Sure. Count me in.’ And that was my first presentation on the topic.

I opened my presentation by saying ‘“He is hormonal.” “He is so intense.” “He got the promotion because the company needed to balance the bands.” “Next time we cannot afford to hire a man for that role.” Those are some of the comments women face every day and men do not.’ I have been using that opening statement ever since. It grabs people’s attention. But it’s also very true. You never hear someone say ‘next time we cannot hire a man for that job. He just couldn’t cut it’. But you hear it about women every single day. And it’s extremely unfair, because competence has nothing to do with gender. Hypothetically I could be a terrible lawyer, way over my head with my role, and people won’t say ‘Oh, it’s because he’s a man’. They’ll say ‘Yes, he was a terrible lawyer; we completely mismanaged the hiring process,’ but my gender is never the issue.

So, that’s how it started and from there I have been invited to give talks to other companies on gender equity issues.

GC: You mentioned that you ‘fell into’ representing P&G on D&I issues, but does the company have a central function that deals with D&I?

Yes, we have what we call ‘pillars’, and D&I is one of them. It looks at many different challenges, one of which is women’s initiatives. Another which was started this year is a neurodiversity project, where we hired six individuals within the autism spectrum. We also have GABLE (Gay, Ally, Bisexual, Lesbian, and Transgender Employees), our LGBTQ network. I also do a little work with GABLE. With the women’s initiatives, as I said, it was just something I fell into, and it has been like putting on a glove. It fits me perfectly. It’s something I believe in, it’s something I feel is important, because I hear so many comments that are not okay.

“I go beyond diversity and inclusion, and I say we need to talk about equity and integration.”

After the first time I went to speak, someone told me that the event was featured in the news. And I thought ‘Oh, good!’ I went to the news programme’s Facebook page, and I found the posting, and I made the worst mistake anyone can make: I read the comments. And there was one that specifically stuck out to me. It was roughly ‘Oh, this is useless, everyone knows women go to social sciences, and men go into engineering, blah, blah, blah’. To me, this was so outrageous, thinking that this might be a parent, a brother – if there’s a young woman starting university wanting to go into science, engineering, maths, technology, and that’s the support they’re getting at home? That was one of the drivers for me to continue finding opportunities to discuss this issue, to show people that if you want to be a pre-school teacher, lawyer, psychologist, engineer – go for it. For me, I’ve never been told ‘you can’t do this; this will never be available to you’. For women, that is something they hear EVERY DAY. And I say that not just because I’m the father of a girl. I could have no children or be the father of ten boys. It would be the same. This is important and we need to change.

GC: How important is it to you that men act as male champions, and also as role models for other men (for example, by taking up opportunities for flexible working)?

It is so important, absolutely. For example, I do flex hours. When P&G started flexible work arrangements here (which was fifteen years ago), this was driven by six or so women who came forward and said ‘Listen, it is difficult for us to keep the same hours; are there any possibilities to work flexibly? We want to continue improving in the company, we still want to work, but we need flexibility’. The company looked into it, and that was it. Those first women were able to take flexible working, and the policy was definitely targeted towards mothers coming back from maternity, or those with young children. But by the following year, the first man had requested flexible working arrangements. And now, today, approximately 95% of the company is using at least one of the flexibility options we have: working from home, not working full-time, etc.

I use it, and I need it. I am divorced, and when I was going through that, it was really difficult for me. My manager at the time said ‘Listen, on Wednesdays, why don’t you leave early, go and pick up your kids from school and spend the afternoon with them, and when you’re able to at night, log back on and check in.’ And I have done that for the last five years.

Often, these working arrangements start because there’s been a reason for women to seek them out, but the beneficiaries are also men. And I think that as leaders we need to show other men that it is okay to leave early, to go to your kid’s soccer game, band presentation, teacher meeting – whatever it may be. As a man, you can do it. The more gear-shifting there is, the more men in senior positions do it, the more we have role models.

It’s just like we need to role model D&I. I go beyond diversity and inclusion, and I say we need to talk about equity and integration. Because that’s what we really need. We need to remove any obstacles that don’t allow someone to achieve equity. We need for everyone to be able to achieve the same, no matter who they are and where they come from.

GC: Do you feel or have you seen that the underlying culture across Latin America, which is quite patriarchal, stymies the take up of those policies?

Yes, definitely. I believe multinational companies have a responsibility to bring best practices to a country where they will eventually become the norm. This year, Costa Rica finally passed a law for flexible working. And why? Because there are so many more multinational companies now, and for them, it’s every day practice. The commerce chamber and associations were also pushing for it. It got enough traction that a law was passed.

One area that I see as low-hanging fruit for companies is paternity leave. You want to get good press for your company? Do paternity leave. It’s so easy. In Costa Rica, by law, mothers have the month before and three months after birth. But offering some type of paternal leave is an equaliser. Because if the conversation shifts from ‘Oh, this woman might one day leave to go on maternity leave’ to ‘Oh, anyone could one day take parental leave’ then it’s a great equaliser. We do it here at P&G, and we are working towards granting more time to fathers so that they can enjoy more time with their children and can help around the house. The president of Costa Rica was pushing for paternity leave and a group within government is working on it. Definitely some organisations and associations are against it, because the money comes from social security. I am completely in favour of it. And hopefully – while we won’t get the full three months – we might get to one month. It’s one of the things I like to talk about.

I talk about gender equity and why it’s important for companies and why we need a diverse workforce, but we also need to talk about the benefits for men of gender equity and more women being in the workforce and the impact is has on society and commerce – it generates more money for the economy. It helps men to move away from these patriarchal strictures: where men need to be the breadwinners, where you have to earn more than your wife or partner. There is a statistic that says women are more likely to try to commit suicide, but men are on average more likely to succeed – they use more brutal means to achieve it. Those suicides – where do they stem from? So often they come from economic problems. Men who lose jobs, men who are in debt – the more we have diverse workforces, the more we have women in work, the more that economic burden is taken away. So, yes, it is a benefit for women but it is also a benefit for men. It’s a benefit for the company. The numbers back up the importance of diversity.

“In our own team, we have a very good gender balance, and we are lucky that this has grown very organically.”

GC: What challenges do you feel the legal industry has in tackling these issues? What does P&G do to tackle gender imbalance?

In the legal profession, we are still way behind. Most law firms, while they may have close to 50/50 representation when it comes to total attorneys, when you get to partner level, it dips substantially. And that’s where we need to call ourselves to attention on it: what are we doing and why? Why are women not achieving partner level in Latin America? That said, it is not just a challenge in Latin America. It is a global challenge.

In our own team, we have a very good gender balance, and we are lucky that this has grown very organically. There haven’t been any team changes in several years. Our chief legal officer is a woman. We had a global meeting in Cincinnati, and these are some of the things we discussed. To me it’s really important how she role models and the things she does. Before Vanessa, the role was filled by a man. The decision wasn’t a conscious ‘oh, it was a man before, now it must be a woman’. It was ‘who is the best person for this role?’ and that person was Vanessa. But I don’t think we will see those big issues here at the company – there might be individual biases – but the company pushes enough what its intent is on the social issues and even more now where the consumer is changing. Consumers, like millennials and Generation Z, want the company to stand for something, not just how much money it can make the shareholders. They want to know what your social issues are, and we have been able to do that through our advertising campaigns.

Our consumer base is predominantly women, and so we really need to practice what we preach. And I think we have three specific campaigns I like to speak about: #LikeAGirl, Share the Load, and We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be. Share the Load started in India and it’s about how, in a very patriarchal way, we assign jobs at the house for women and you go to work and do a full day’s work and then you come home and you have a full day’s work ahead of you again with household chores. And it’s fascinating to see what parents see in how they are raising their kids, or how dads are raising their daughters and how they wished they would have role-modelled differently. And then in 2019 we had our Gillette campaign, where we got clobbered on social media, because apparently there’s nothing more fragile than the male ego. And I don’t get it. I guess the other two campaigns were very inspiring and this was very ‘in your face’, deliberately. But it delivers a message and in the end the numbers backed up that we were right. It was the right call to go that way.

GC: From the legal industry perspective, when you’re thinking about panel law firms and who you give work to, do you look at diversity statistics? Does it influence your decision?

The law firms that I specifically use right now were in place before I started at P&G. Unfortunately, that’s not something I can say we reviewed or I reviewed at the time. But at least one of the firms has a very diverse and very close to 50/50 representation in partners. The other one does not. It’s a very much more traditional Costa Rican set up. But now that I’m more into the importance of this, in everything I try to look at where it is: what does the firm stand for, what does the company stand for, and I look at it in other firms here in Costa Rica. I like to look at whether firms are ranking for diversity.

I think we’re on the right track; we’re starting to talk more about the importance of diversity. It’s a long-term commitment to change, and sometimes you have to start small. It’s like in your personal life, you can’t just say, from now on I’m going to wake up at 5am every day and run 10km, and get to the office early, and eat vegan, and at night volunteer with charities. Choose one initiative, internalise it, commit to it, and then move on to others when you’re ready. Companies can’t go from zero to 100 in a few seconds – it has to be gradual and we have to work on it, work on the culture. Leaders have to role model and show that what they are saying is definitely what the company stands for. Eventually we will reach our goal.